Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween. Because I'm In Too Deep of a Sugar Low to be Creative.

I didn't take any photos of my kids this Halloween.  The first year they were here, I took a bunch of pictures BOTH times they carved pumpkins, and then of course of their costumes and their first trick-or-treating experience.  Last year we got a quick photo as we headed out the door, then a couple more as they sorted out their loot on the kitchen floor.  This year Oak did ask me to film him carving his pumpkin, because he was trying to make a "how to" video (since, you know, people don't know how to carve pumpkins...?), but I didn't get a single shot of them in costume.

I was feeling mild guilt about this, and then I thought--how many pictures do we have from Halloween when I was a kid?  I can think of one black-and-white shot of my mom and sisters lounging across my parents bed admiring me as I pose in my princess outfit--one of my mom's old nighties and a cardboard cone hat with lace trailing off the top.  (This also explains my deep seated prejudice against spending money on Halloween costumes.)  The only other picture from my early Halloween's is one of me at age 4 dressed as, I shit you not, a geisha girl.  There are so many layers of wrong to this costume.  I realize that geishas aren't necessarily prostitutes, but there is that connotation, which I'm sure my parents were aware of, right?  Then there is the whole, "Hey, I'm going to be Japanese for Halloween" aspect, which is so culturally inappropriate and offensive.  But I remember clearly how delighted I was that the black wig hid all my hair, and the face paint disguised my face, so that all the neighbors declared they had NO IDEA who I was.  Now that I'm no longer four, I suspect that between the fact that I was one of the only little kids on the street and that I would have been with my dad or sisters, people probably did know who I was.  But when you're little, being in costume makes you feel transformed.

This year my kids were a zombie and a vampire.  We took our 15 year old neighbor, who just immigrated from Iran last summer, with us.  He had an black and red belled jester costume, horrifying skeleton mask, and a fake ax.  True to family form, my kids were wearing some face paint and half-assed homemade/Goodwill costumes.  They were all awesome.  They were transformed.

This was part of the Finish the Sentence Friday blog-hop.  Link up at: Finding Ninee

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Great Front Porch Toilet Flush of 2014, or That 101st Cheap Date Idea You've All Been Waiting For

We live in a house with 3 toilets and 4 people.  This is a change from how I grew up, with 2 toilets and 6 people.  So when one toilet--in the kids' bathroom--stopped flushing reliably, we worked on it from time to time, but mostly just said, "Use one of the other bathrooms."  I gave my son a brief (thankfully) lesson in how to use less than half a roll of toilet paper to wipe with.  What can I say?  He comes from a country where the TP goes in the trash, not down the toilet, so he was never taught to conserve, I guess.

Then the guest bathroom toilet stopped working also.  Well, it would work with just water, but not much else.  So now the kids were traipsing in and out of our bedroom every time they needed to go potty, since the master bath had the only remaining functioning toilet.  This prompted the Winemaker to get more serious about fixing the downstairs toilet.  He got an auger and spent a good deal of time swearing at it, to no avail.

Friday we had my twice-a-year miracle, a day I am off work but the kids have school.  Yes, I went back to bed after they left for the day.  When I got up, my husband had made me lunch.  I was blissfully eating and reading, when he walked into the room and said, "You wanna help me fix the toilet?" and gave me a big grin to let me know that he knew exactly how much I did NOT want to deal with anything toilet related.  But I knew he'd already done what he could single-handed, and I did vow for better and for worse, so I said, "Let me finish my lunch," and then went to change into grubbies.

I was dreading it, though.  First, toilet--ew.  Second, the Winemaker is much more intuitive than I am about fixing things, and spatial problems in general, and usually winds up getting frustrated when I am unable to understand what my role is when we're working on something like this.  I am the person that NEVER can figure out how to rotate an object being carried through a doorway so that it will fit. He'll ask for a tool, and unless it's a hammer or screwdriver, I tend to say, "Um, can you describe it?"  It offends my feminist sensibilities greatly, but there it is.  I keep trying though, because I know that if he's asking for my help, he is feeling stuck on his own, and because I keep thinking I might learn something, or develop some confidence.

So there we were, in the tiny guest bathroom, and he got the toilet laying on its back.  Then he looked at me and gravely said, "We should probably put a sign on it so nobody tries to use it."

I thought of how OBLIVIOUS certain members of our household can be and busted up laughing.

And we were off.  I'm not saying there wasn't any frustration, but it was the two of us frustrated with the toilet, not each other.  

When we finally decided that the augur wasn't getting everything, we decided to carry the entire toilet out to the front porch and see if we could force out the blockage with a hose.  There's nothing like sitting a toilet down on your front porch to see if the neighborhood is paying attention.  We both had the giggles.  We cranked up the hose and blasted that sucker.

And finally...out popped a color pencil.  If we had approached this job as a miserable chore and a swear-project, the kids would have been in SO MUCH TROUBLE.  But because we'd been treating it as a joke, the pencil was just the punchline.  We contemplated putting it back in their color pencil box and telling them to guess which one had spent a month or more in the toilet.  We started making guesses about what could be blocking the kids' toilet upstairs.  We got the toilet back into the house without me getting us hung up in any doorways, and the Winemaker got it re-sealed to the floor.

"You hear that?"  he asked, and we listened to the water rushing as the toilet flushed easily.  "Isn't that a beautiful sound?"  We grinned at each other.

I'd thought that on our kid-less day we could maybe go get coffee.  How dull!  This took us back to the early days, when just being together made anything automatically exciting.  I remember the thrill of going grocery shopping with him, of spreading barkdust with him, of changing the sheets together.  The task is just a task, but the feeling of being on the same team makes it a good time.

So if you're looking for some unexpected fun with your sweetie--turn your kids loose in the bathroom and take it from there.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kids? What kids?

Tonight the Winemaker and I realized that we had somehow forgotten that we have kids EVEN IN THE MORNING.  We both had plans to be away during the get-up-and-go-to-school part of the day. We both knew about each other's plans.  Yet we failed to make a plan for the kids.  We've only been parents for two years, you guys.  It's not like you can expect us to take our children into consideration when planning our days...oh wait, yes you can.  Hm.

I'm not sure what to say about how we got ourselves into this situation, but he is leaving town at 3 am to go pick up grapes in Eastern Washington, and I leave for work at 6:30, and the kids can't be at school until 8:00.  And while they have the technical skills to dress and feed themselves, and even to bike to school, they don't have the emotional skills to resist eating all the sugar in the house, beating each other up, and playing video games all morning, instead of getting out the door.  I worked out a crazy plan with my very understanding boss to bring my kids to work with me (because they would TOTALLY behave themselves sitting in a classroom full of older kids who are dominating Mommy's attention...or not), but a desperate plea over Facebook garnered an offer of support from a woman whose son played soccer with my son last year.

This is complicated by the fact that our daughters adore each other, but our sons barely tolerate each other.  Okay, I think her kid hates my kid, and Oak just likes her kid because he has cool video games at his house.  I think their boy is kind of a dick, frankly, which just goes to show how unfair life is, because Oak has a lot bigger behavior issues, but the fact that another kid would dare to not like him just makes me mad.

Further complicated by the fact that their daughter is as wildly unpredictable as my son, so when we swap kids, as we do, I find it enormously stressful, BUT sometimes they offer to take ALL FOUR KIDS, so I feel like a total parent wimp.

And now I am totally and forever in these people's debt.  It's kind of weird.  None of our family were able to help out, nor good friends.  Is it better to be in serious debt to people you don't know well, or to people you do?   It's kind of like the difference between borrowing money from the bank or from your mother-in-law (yeah, that happened this week too--we're on a roll).

Just had to share.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Goodbye, Summer. *sobs*

*insert standard apology/complaint about not having posted in so long*

I'm having less trouble than usual saying goodbye to this summer vacation.  I suspect it's because I was really lame and lethargic all summer, so why not go back to work?  Plus, after having a bad teaching year last year for a variety of reasons, I'm anticipating getting my mojo back this year.  I'm excited about my curriculum and my teaching team, and I'm optimistic about my students and my department.

But saying goodbye to summer itself?  NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!



This summer was crazy hot by Oregon standards.  I LOVED it.  I mean, yes, I did also discover that I'm more of an 80s kind of girl than a 90s kind of girl, but give me 90 and hot over 65 and rainy any day.  Opening the windows at sunset, putting fans in them, and flopping around on top of the bedspread until, sometime around midnight, the room finally cools off enough to get under the sheet--LOVE IT.  Wearing one pair of shorts day after day after day after day because they're the only pair that fit and nothing else is cool enough--LOVE IT.  Putting the kids to bed in sleeping bags on the back porch because their rooms are on the hot side of the house--LOVE IT.

There is so much I didn't do this summer--no lake swimming, barely any camping, no mountains, and due to the Mother's Day Bee Sting Incident (which started with me saying, "Stop freaking out, a bee's not going to just fly up and sting you," and ended with, you guessed it, a bee flying up and stinging my youngest child), I couldn't even get my family to eat on the deck.  But still, it was SUMMER, MAN.  I read 30 books.  Roses bloomed.  I stayed up late and slept in, heedless of my children's all-morning video game extravaganzas.  Ice cream was consumed.  (Do you like how I suddenly switched to passive voice for that one?)  We dug out the slip-n-slide, hosed off the more obvious mold stains, and kids frolicked.  I'd stop by my sister's house, and three hours and two glasses of wine later, we'd light a fire in her fire pit.  My husband developed a habit of picking up iced coffees every time he was out in the afternoon, and even more than the iced coffee aspect (which is pretty awesome already), there was the little rush of getting a treat from my sweetheart, knowing he was thinking of me.  Oak finally figured out the crawl stroke, Linden learned archery at camp, and I hosted two whole play dates.

Also--and please don't take this the wrong way, all you Mamas and Papas out there--I did not have to grade one single paper, and the only freaky kids I had to deal with were my own.  Plus, I could see a therapist once a week.  There is just no way to have regular therapy during the school year.  So, yay for mental health.

Now it's ending.  There is still the lovely golden summer light in the evening, but it arrives earlier and turns to dusk quicker.  Oak woke up early this morning needing another blanket on his bed.  The swifts have left our chimney.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like to live somewhere that is warm year-round.  If I love summer so much, why do I stay in this place where we earn our sunny days with 8 months of rain?  Then I remember the winter I spent in Mexico.  As part of my grad school teaching practicum, I lived with a family and taught English at a community college.  My host sister and I had several variations of this conversation:

Martha:  (something about a barbecue)
Me: Oh, we have barbecues in the summer too!
Martha: Why in the summer?
Me: That's the only time the weather is good enough.
Martha: Really?  Weird.
(For "barbecue," substitute picnic, outdoor swimming, sundresses, etc.)

And while I enjoyed my Mexican winter, I realize that part of what makes these things so special to me is their very rarity.  Painted toenails in sandals wouldn't give me a little thrill if that's how my feet always looked.  Lemonade would start to feel passé.  I'd miss the ceremony of setting out the patio furniture and lose my deadline for getting myself to a lake.  This horrible sense of NOOOOOOOOOOOOO I get as August slides into September is the price I pay for the bliss summer brings.  Even this year, when I was dull and unmotivated, I kept turning to my kids and saying, "Have I mentioned I love summer?"

"Yes, Mom.  About a hundred times."

This was a "Finish the Sentence Friday" post.  Click here for more!

Monday, August 4, 2014

When Spaghetti is Worse Than Missing Dessert

I must have done something terribly wrong* for parenting karma to bite me like this.

My kids have stopped liking spaghetti.  From the day we met, up until about three weeks ago, one way to achieve harmony in our household was to put some noodles in water, some sauce and meat in a pan, and with very little effort, feed all of us.  But now, spaghetti is rejected.

By both of them.  At the same time.  My daughter, who lives for salad bars, so she can load up her plate with beets.  My son, who dances in the grocery aisle in his attempts to convey to me his enthusiasm for sardines.

They sit and look sadly at their plates of spaghetti.  The look in their eyes is much like what mine would be if I were offered a sardine and beet stew.

"I don't really want dessert tonight, Mom," sighs Linden, listlessly pushing the noodles across her plate.  This is code for "I'm refusing to eat what I'm served."  The understanding is that if you eat a reasonable amount of all of your dinner, you will be invited to dessert.

"I'm still full from those apples and peanut butter, Mom," says Oak diplomatically.

"The ones you had at 11:00 this morning?" I ask.

"Um.  Yeah.  I don't really feel like dessert tonight either."

"Fine," I reply.  "But in an hour and a half from now, when we're getting ready for bed, I don't want to hear that you are suddenly starving."

"Deal!" he exclaims.  "And if I do...I owe you a half hour of work around the house!"

Sounds like a win-win to me.  Except for the small matter of the ginormous bowl of spaghetti I put back in the fridge.  I am not going to serve it to them for breakfast and lunch tomorrow, but I am serving it for dinner tomorrow night.  I can only hope that either hunger wins out, or diplomacy continues to reign.

*Well, I guess I've been honest enough on here that we all know I have screwed up badly more than a few times.  I deserve worse than this.  But who wants what they deserve?


Sunday, August 3, 2014

"I Am Not Needy; I Am Wanty."

"Guess what?"

Our seven year old neighbor is dancing with excitement on our front doorstep.  Linden and I are chatting with her for a few minutes before we have to run an errand.  The girls have already arranged to have a tea party when we get back.

She can't even wait for us to ask.  "I'm taking the first test towards getting my quad license today!"

I ask her what that involves.  "Reading a chapter book and answering 2 questions.  Or maybe 11."  This sounds more like AR than the DMV, but I know nothing about quads.  Maybe this is her family's personal licensing system.  Still, I know what is coming next.

"Lucky!" Linden says this with that jealous punch that drags the word out.  She slides her eyes up towards me.  "It's not fair.  You guys have more money than us."

I fall back on the hoariest of chestnuts.  "Life's not fair, sweetpea, and you know that."

"That's what my sister always says!" exclaims our guest.

"All of us on this street are very lucky compared to many people in the world," I add.  Sanctimonious, but true.  The girls get side tracked into a conversation about who has more dogs in their family.  We leave for our errand.

We do seem to be the poorest and/or cheapest of our kids' friends' families.  The neighbors have an RV, four quads, a trampoline, and an above ground pool.  Linden's friend has three American Girl dolls, countless stuffies, and an endless array of new clothes.  They take gymnastics and horse riding lessons, and the family heads off on vacations every month or so.  This is typical of the kids they play with, and most of our adult friends as well.  None of us are fabulously wealthy--our social circle sits firmly in the 99%, as far as American wealth goes--but, according to the above infographic, we are also in the top 8% worldwide.

My kids used to live in a garage.

Their birth mom is homeless.


I haven't even mentioned Oak yet, but he is a bottomless pit of Wanting More Stuff.  He was fostered in two different Italian families three years ago--an adoption trial masquerading as a summer exchange--and he talks about it often, compared to how much he talks about the rest of his past.  It must have been a confusing time, being told to call first one pair of people Mama and Papa, then, when he seemed too rowdy to them and was passed on to a younger couple, being told that now THESE people would be Mama and Papa.  Then, at the end of the summer, back to the orphanage after all.

When he talks about it, he talks about the toys they bought him, toys he had to leave behind.  Legos, train sets, bikes, remote control cars, DVDs, video games... he describes a sort of Lost Boys wonderland of eating sweets and chips all day, playing video games without limit, and an endless supply of newer and better toys.  Whenever I ask him about the people, he becomes vague.  There might have been a brother or two in one family.  A grandma who let them watch movies all morning.  He doesn't remember the parents, and doesn't care to, but he is still angry about the loss of all those toys.  Life OWES him those toys.

(Yes, I get that this is displacement on his part, and that Stuff is less likely to hurt you than People are.)

I don't blame them.  Even besides the fact that it really is time for life to be unfair in their favor, I too tend to wander the shore of the endless sea of wanting more.  I am happy in my life, glad I earn enough to support my family, and that the Winemaker earns enough to support his winemaking.  I have everything I need and more.  But I have senseless wants, and I must battle my envy, just like my kids do.  I bought two new dresses this summer; my colleague bought a dozen.  We took a day trip to the beach; a friend's family rented a cabin for a week.  I tell myself that it's ridiculous that our family of four has to cram into a 2 door Civic, that my husband's allergies would improve if we replaced the carpets with wood, or even Pergo.  I try to explain to my son that getting this new toy will not actually make him happy, then I find myself wandering Target, thinking, 'Oh, I NEED that!" about objects I never would have considered if I'd just stayed home.  Or gone hiking.  Or read a book.


As Linden and I drove off on our errand, we passed the Oregon Food Bank headquarters on our street.  I remembered the time we saw a beggar as we exited the grocery store parking lot, and she asked if we could invite him home to sleep at our house.  "Let's sign up to help out at the food bank," I told her.  "I get why you sometimes feel jealous that your friends have things you don't, but we actually have a lot."

She started listing things we have--a house, cars, enough food always.  "So we should give some food to people who don't have any!"

I told her that, according to our paperwork, she herself once lived in a garage.

"I don't remember that," she said.  "That makes me sad."

It makes me sad too.  And angry.  And confused.  And embarrassed, that I, who have never lacked a safe place to sleep, am envious of those who have a few more toys than I do.  So I will sign us up to help sort food, and I will continue to limit my trips to Target, and be inspired by the Winemaker's thriftiness and self sufficiency.  I will not shame my kids for wishing they had more, nor try to create guilt for having so much when others have so little, but I will try to model mindfulness and gratitude.  I will force myself to have the uncomfortable conversations about their past, to tie together their history and their current life, and to help them see that just as they are the same person now they were then, that those who have less than us (or more than us) are no less human for that.
: )

Monday, July 21, 2014

Country and Jazz

My Summer of New started off strong, then, predictably, began to falter.  Luckily, when it was novel and fresh and exciting, I'd made myself a little list of ideas, so when I noticed I was really having to reach to come up with a new thing to record at the end of the day ("My kid learned how to dive!  Wait, that's not my new thing.  I watched a movie I'd never seen before!  Yes, and...?), I used the list to get me going again.

Today was the day I listened to not-my-radio-station all day long.  Well, when I was in the car, which is the only time I listen to the radio.  The kids started a day camp across town, which very conveniently starts AND ends at the height of rush hour, so it was a couple of hours of drive time musical novelty.

The buttons in my car are programmed to:
  1. Adult contemporary (Bob Marley to The Lumineers to Ray LaMontage to Sheryl Crow)
  2. Alternative
I mostly switch back and forth between those two channels when ads come on, but sometimes I use the other buttons, which are, more or less in order of preference:

    3.  Classical music
    4.  the 80s station
    5. NPR
    6.  classic rock

So today, I programmed the second menu of buttons to the following:

    1.  Christian music
    2.  Jazz
    3.  the Spanish station
    4.  hip-hop
    5.  country
    6. top 40

Here's what I noticed:
  • Both the hip-hop station and the top 40 station played "Fancy."  My only previous exposure to the song was when Jimmy Fallon lip synched to it.  I had just read this article by Brittney Cooper describing how Iggy, a white Australian, has co-opted black culture with this song, so I was both interested and slightly repulsed.  Also, I can't get it out of my head.  
  • When I switched to the jazz station, I immediately wanted to switch away.  Jazz is so...twitchy.  Not enough melody.  I was grumbling to myself, 'It's like the clarinet and the piano are playing two different songs that happen to have the same beat."  Then I started counting the beat in my head, and suddenly it started making more sense to me.  I wound up listening to two more songs before an ad came on.  It's still not my cup of tea, but I bet it's fun to see live.
  • The Christian station was boring.  Sorry, but it was.  
  • I liked the music on the Spanish station--all that accordion music always reminds me of Eastern European songs--but the DJs were really shrieky.  
  • So were the hip-hop DJs.  
  • Top 40 was only slightly less dull than the Christian station.
  • Surprise of the day--I was kind of digging the country station.  I'm not sure why they have to sing with a twang--in rock and pop, you can't tell if a singer is American, Swedish. British, or what, so don't tell me they're not intentionally twanging--but I am a sucker for story songs.  There were several that were okay, and one I came home and looked up.  Luke Bryan's "Play it Again."   I think I've heard his name, but I don't know any of his music.  
This was fun.  At first I had to remind myself not to switch away from the stations, but by the afternoon I would listen to several songs in a row, switching stations at ad breaks, like I normally do.  My listening to unfamiliar stations all day doesn't do any good for the world, but it was definitely a "break out of my rut" day.